As many of you have already noticed, there is a TREMENDOUS amount of conflicting information floating around about babies and sleep. One of the biggest misconceptions is this idea of “transitioning” or “phasing out” sleep props. For the purpose of this discussion, a sleep prop is anything your child uses to assist them to fall asleep. It is simply a myth that you can “transition” away from sleep props. Read on below to learn why!
Let’s Define Sleep Training First
In order for your child to be truly sleep trained, they should be able to…
1) go down awake (not drowsy),
2) on their back,
3) in a totally empty crib or Pack n Play,
4) and be able to fall asleep on their own.
If they require your interaction, or a bottle, or a Doc a Tot or a swaddle, or *anything* other than themselves to fall asleep, they are not truly sleep trained. Thus, the idea of slowly getting rid of these sleep props comes into play.
Why “Transitioning” From Sleep Props is a Myth
Here’s the truth about transitioning – there is quite literally no such thing. Trying to “transition” off a sleep prop is like trying to break up with a super gorgeous, funny, smart, but bad-for-you boyfriend. Maybe he lies, maybe he won’t commit, maybe he has no ambition… You know the best course of action for your own long term happiness and success as a human is to cut off all contact with this guy, and break the relationship off completely. It’s like you know you’re basically addicted to this person, and you have to end things for your own good.
If you’ve ever been in this situation yourself, or had someone close to you experience it, you understand why the best way to deal is to simply break up and move on. Not somehow try to slowly “transition” out of the relationship. Even if you go back and forth, see him less and less, but still maintain a relationship… Your addiction to this person will continually pull you back into the relationship over, and over, and over again.
This is exactly how all sleep props work. Your child is addicted and fully dependent on them to sleep. If you give them to your kid at some times, but not others, it will only cause them to protest more in order to get the help they need to fall asleep. You are not doing them a favor, or being more humane. Or more gentle by allowing them to sometimes have their sleep prop, but not other times. You are causing them confusion and frustration, and you may also be unwittingly perpetuating a negative association with sleep. Your child cannot for the life of them understand why you let them have their sleep props sometimes but not others.
So What To Do?
The best thing to do is to outline your sleep training plan, and get the okay from the doctor to cut off all sleep props. Then cut every single prop off all at once on the very first night of training. Bedtime is the easiest time of day for the body to fall asleep. So by removing all their sleep props right before bedtime on the first night of training, you will be putting your child in a position where they can quickly figure out how to give in to the enticing tugs of sleep without needing the help of anyone, or anything else to fall asleep.
While the total elimination of sleep props all at once can sound harsh, challenging, or shocking, know that I have worked one-on-one with thousands of families, and cutting props at all at once consistently provides better results (aka way less crying) than any attempts at transitioning.
So remember, to truly stop the use of sleep props…
- Have a specific and thorough sleep training plan
- Get the okay from baby’s doctor
- Stop the use of all sleep props on night one of training
- And move forward with strict consistency
However unbelievable it may seem, this is a recipe for success.
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My little guy is 15 weeks and his startle reflex is still strong. I’m anxious to start after he’s 16 weeks, but I’m not sure if him startling himself awake would work itself out with sleep training or if it would be a battle every night until he outgrew it. Would you wait it out a little longer or go ahead and start in a week?
Currently he’s swaddled for sleep and is starting to bust out of the miracle blanket 2-3 times a night.
Idk my sister feed my nephew to sleep until he was 7 8 months old and she didnt need to transition him he just stopped on his own. My 6 month old daughter is highly sensitive with bad reflux and terrible colic(calling it colic until we talk to her doctor more about it) she literally screams if I dont swaddle her and feed her to sleep at night. I rock her for naps or use white noise cause again she screams bloody murder and even wakes through the night whimpering or screaming and crying half asleep! I’ve literally tried putting her down no bottle or swaddle and she will NOT sleep.
I think you definitely know what’s best for your family ❤️ I’ve known many families with babies struggling with what your little one is struggling with, and they’ve had a lot of success with sleep training. The option is always there if you want to try it 🙂
My son needs multiple sleep props after I changed how i get him to sleep since he would only ever eat all day and eat himself to sleep. On top of that he’s up every hour of the night now while also overtired. Is 7 weeks on monday too soon to start him on this? It’s driving me hopping mad now.
I know this part is tough!! Sadly, at 7 weeks is best to avoid training. You can revisit the idea of sleep training once he’s 16 weeks of age or older, counting from his due date. Keep in mind this issue might improve on its own at least a little bit, with some time.
I’m wondering about thumbsucking. Is it okay for a 5 month old to suck their thumb to fall asleep? And is it a concern if they start sucking their thumb more during the day?
I love it when babies suck their thumbs. It’s like a gift from mother nature. You can’t really stop them from doing it <3 and it usually helps them sleep better.
Your analogy about the bad boyfriend suggests that sleep props are “bad”. Nursing to sleep and other comforts are not “bad”. There is no harm in them. They are simply inconvenient and difficult to continue long term for the caregiver. To suggest other wise is a shame tactic. If the carer is happy to nurse/rock/sing/shush baby to sleep every night, possibly multiple times, good for them. If they don’t and want to find a solution, also good for them. Please don’t compare the first instance with an abusive relationship.
Thank you for your comment! I 100% agree. This blog post is intended specifically for those who don’t want to continue to assist their little ones to sleep and are looking for help on how to move their child into a pattern of unassisted sleep. Thankfully, bad boyfriends aren’t usually abusive, and I’m so glad I didn’t refer to sleep props as being abusive!! Phew.
I’m planning on sleep training my dtr when she turns 16 weeks old (she’s 14 week atm) I am still swaddling her and do 1 night feed. Should I try to transition her out of the swaddle before the training begins or should I just wait for the first night?
As long as your pediatrician states it’s safe, you can keep her in the swaddle until you sleep train.
I will be stating your programme in a couple weeks when my son turns 16 weeks. When we remove the pacifier for sleep training should we also remove it during his awake times? He doesn’t always use it when he is awake but he does sometimes when he fusses here and there and he always uses it in the car otherwise he gets very very upset since hes trapped in his chair (he doesn’t sleep in the car seat anymore like he used to when we would travel) would it cause confusion to use it during awake times but not sleep times?
As long as the pediatrician approves of baby sleeping without pacifier, yes you can keep it and use it anytime that is not within 30 mins of naps or bedtime.
My 10 year old desperately needed to be swaddled up until 2-3 months. We used the swaddle me and he was getting out of it. He was also waking up 3-5 times a night to comfort feed. I started sleep training at 3 1/2 months because as a single working mom, the sleep deprivation was debilitating. He transitioned out of the swaddle and by the third day of teaching to self soothe, he was sleeping 12+ hours..
However…. My 6 month old was swaddled until 3 months and it was hell sleep training him without it. I got the zipadee sleep sack and that’s when sleep training worked. Every baby is different. Sleep training works just great even if your baby needs a transition swaddle. It also keeps them warm without the safety issues of putting a blanket in the crib.